The ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front in Kerala surprised almost everyone with its impressive performance in the local body polls in the southern state. It is often said that whoever performs well in local body polls goes on to win assembly elections. Assembly elections in Kerala are due in April-May of 2021. The local body poll results are all the more surprising given that merely last year the Congress-led United Democratic Alliance had won as many as 19 out of 20 parliamentary seats from the state.
The BJP having run a spirited campaign in the local body elections has apparently failed to convince the voters. The BJP had used the services of its top leaders in Kerala including central ministers to canvass for the party. It seems that despite its surge in the adjoining Karnataka, it will have to wait longer to make its mark in God's own country.
An important feature of the local body elections in Kerala this year is the success of Muslim political parties. While the Muslim League is a permanent fixture in the state's political arena for decades and has been part of the Congress-led UDF, this year two other Muslim outfits have made inroads in the state and there are chances that both will become permanent fixtures therein.
The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of PFI, has surprised almost everyone by its superlative performance by winning as many as 100 seats in the local body elections and in the process becoming a force to reckon with. Although the party had performed poorly in previous election, this year saw it making huge inroads in areas where it formerly didn't have much of a presence. Some political analysts believe that it had a tacit understanding with the ruling Left front in many states, though official LDF sources deny such claims.
Jamaat-e-Islami's Welfare Party of India has also performed better than expected, bagging around 65 seats in local body polls. Although the Welfare Party has been fighting state elections for over a decade it is for the first time that it has tasted real success and has emerged as a serious player in Kerala politics. However, the credit for its performance, according to analysts, should go to its alliance with the Congress-led UDF. There are reasons to believe that the WPI's presence in its fold may help the UDF to retain a couple of municipalities that it would have lost without a tacit understanding with the WPI.
UDF's alliance with the WPI has apparently helped the UDF in defeating the LDF in some important regions including in parts of Kozhikode and Malappuram, areas with sizeable Muslim population. Jamaat-e-Islami's political wing has also aided the UDF in other parts of the state. Two gram panchayats in Malappuram district, including Kootilangadi and Angadippuram have also been won by the UDF thanks to its alliance with the WPI. Latest reports suggest that the Welfare Party of India has won three wards and one ward in Kootilangadi and Angadippuram, respectively. This is also going to help the UDF.
The Welfare Party leadership is gung-ho about the performance of the fledgling outfit and are claiming that the UDF was able to hold its forte primarily thanks to its alliance with the Welfare Party of India. Hameed Vaniyambalam, state president, WPI, was quoted by the New Indian Express as saying: “We have won 65 wards across the state… UDF has benefited from the tie-up with WPI in our core areas”.
While Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen didn't fight elections in Kerala, the fact that two other Muslim parties did well in the local body elections have shot another round of talks among Muslims about the need to have a political party or parties of their own. But Professor Imtiaz Ahmad, a former professor of sociology in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, thinks that Kerala is completely different compared to other Indian states. “Kerala is unique in its demographic distribution. The Kerala model cannot work all over India. And local elections are different. Muslim party would produce a backlash from which they will not be able to escape unscratched,” he stipulates.
He adds that Muslims should give up the dream of having separate political parties of their own. “The sooner Muslims give up their dream of Muslim party the better it would be better for them. That is if they are concerned about their future in India. Once the backlash comes they will be swept away. The pity is that they are not even concerned about the future,” Professor Ahmad states.
Muslim political parties are not new phenomena in the southern state. The Indian Union Muslim League has been an important player in Kerala politics. Presently, it has three members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, a seat in Rajya Sabha and has 18 legislators in the assembly of 140 MLAs.
While talking about the role of Muslim League in Kerala politics, SK Ghosh, in his book ‘Muslim Politics in India’ says, “In Kerala, the Indian Union Muslim League is a decisive factor in coalition fronts; it holds the key to the life of coalition governments. It along with the Congress was in the forefront of the fight against the communists in 1957. But from 1962 onwards relations between the Congress and the IUML began worsening. IUM gradually moved to the Marxist camp in 1967 and found a place in the Marxist coalition ministry. As a token of gratitude for their services, the CPI (M) carved out a separate Muslim district for them - Malappuram - in 1968. In 1969, relations between the IUML and the CPI(M) worsened and in the break-up which followed, the IUML found a secure position in the Congress led UDF ministry. In 1979, a ministry was formed headed by the IUML leader CH Mohammad Koya with the support of the Congress (I) and Congress (U). Next year, the IUML backed the Congress (I) led UDF ministry. And in 1982 the IUML became a major partner in the UDF ministry consisting of 12 parties”.
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Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October